Monday, 31 January 2011

The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Mark of the Berserker

Part One

“Guess it’ll be a quiet weekend, then.”

It’s only at the start of this episode that I’m realising that there are actually quite a few regular guest actors playing the same teachers and kids episode to episode. (Although they didn’t have many lines to learn for this particular pre-credits sequence!) Still, I’m a bit slow. Anyway… a big part of why my Marathon went on such a massive hiatus was that I just wasn’t that enthused about another season of The Sarah Jane Adventures. But this story has proved me wrong. This is a cracker of a script from Joseph Lidster, and easily the best story yet.

We establish early on that this is our first Sarah Jane-lite story, which is no bad thing here, as unlike in Doctor Who we have an ensemble cast. All of the other regulars get some nice development here- Clyde, obviously, but also Rani and Luke. Even the little touches- Clyde’s drawings, Rani’s relationship with her not-so-scary-when-off-duty-and-actually-a-nice-bloke dad- all add something. This is a script which gets the nuts and bolts right. And even the story’s MacGuffin, the One Ring… er, pendant, is at root just an excuse for doing character stuff as with Ghost Machine for Torchwood. Which is cool.

We get a nice demonstration of the seductive nastiness of said MacGuffin in the scene where Rani realises she can make Haresh do exactly as she says, which is at first funny but then becomes creepy. Rani, being no Smeagol, immediately does the right thing and takes it to Sarah Jane’s attic where it should be safe. (I love Mr Smith’s answerphone message, incidentally.) Unfortunately, this being an adventure drama and all, that’s not going to happen.

We get to meet Clyde’s mum, Carla. Amusingly, it’s implied that Sarah Jane finds her quite boring to talk to! But we establish quite quickly and economically that she and Clyde have a healthy, normal and very realistic relationship. Which, of course, is very quickly shattered by the arrival of Clyde’s unpleasant father, Paul, played by That Bloke Off Of Eastenders. It’s made clear that Paul simply abandoned his wife and son to run off to Germany with another woman, and that he’s taken no interest in Clyde since, or in the serious consequences of what he’s done. This forms the context for the subtext of pretty much everything that happens from this point onwards, which is very good writing.

The chat between Clyde and Paul on the swings is also brilliant and full of meaning. Clyde simultaneously resents his father for abandoning him but also longs to have his father back, and is driven to show his father about his secret alien-fighting lifestyle. It’s clear things are not going to work out well as soon as Paul, having been shown Sarah Jane’s attic, comments that “You could make a fortune on eBay.” Clyde gets what he wanted: his dad says he’s proud of him. But Paul, a Smeagol if ever there was one, steals the One Ring. And the ending, with what he does to Haresh, and making Clyde forget his own friends, is very, very dark.

Part Two

“You know what to do.”

I like this glimpse we get, Shaun of the Dead style, of this exciting other adventure Sarah Jane is having in the hospital with that cheap-looking alien slug. Of course, phones must always be switched off in hospitals; she’s incommunicado. So what Luke and Rani do, which is really rather cool, is to get in touch with Maria and Alan in Washington DC. Yay! And Alan is almost as good a hacker as Mickey is, which is highly convenient.

Paul has now crossed a line and started doing some Really Morally Dodgy Stuff. He steals- yes, steals- a car and assorted other items, and is clearly metamorphosing from a Smeagol to a Gollum. Plus, Haresh is still doing press-ups. This isn’t very realistic, really; no one is that fit, and the consequences would probably be quite nasty and permanent. Still, dramatically, it works.

The rest of this excellent episode is taken up with a car chase to Mordor- er, the marina- and some nice father and son dialogue. Paul crosses yet another line after this episode’s heart to heart with Clyde as he finds an easy answer to evade the consequences of his actions by just making Clyde forget the things he’s done wrong. Even more unforgivably, he then makes Clyde forget his own mother.

The climax, with Paul in full-on Gollum mode, threatening to order the whole world about, but here’s Sarah Jane to save the day. It’s a nice and satisfying ending, and it’s nice that Sarah Jane just trusts Clyde to do what needs to be done and throw the One Ring into Mount Doom. One thing troubles me, though; he uses the ring to make his mother forget what’s happened. There should really be consequences.

The final scene is lovely; Sarah Jane forgives Clyde as she would have done the same. And we get more mentions of the disappearance of Sarah Jane’s parents back when she was a nipper. Could this be leading to something?

Wonderful stuff. Admittedly, the story suffers from the lovely Gita not being in it (I’ve got a bit of a crush on Mina Anwar), but this is very good indeed. 5/5.

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